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Officials taking first steps toward new year budget

Lincoln County officials are hard at work on the 2012-2013 budget.

     Lincoln County’s expenditure budget for 2011-2012 was $15,057,068, not counting the schools, according to Lincoln County Administrator David Fields.

     Fields said the new budget, which would take effect Oct. 1, is still in the early portions of planning, but the public can expect a public hearing on the budget on Sept. 13 or 14.

     “We’re still in the preliminary phase of it,” he said. “We’re just looking to hold it close to where it was last year. We have a few things planned now for the new budget, but nothing major.”

     Fields said the county aimed to hold things steady over the past few years in the wake of the economic downturn.

     “We’re been trying to pretty much hold our budget in line and we have for the past four years,” he said.

     The past few years have seen very little increase in the county budget as 2009-2011 saw no increase and the 2011-2012 budget went up by $3,794.

     Fields said he expects a minimal increase overall for the next fiscal year.

     “I’ll guess we’ll have a 2 to 3 percent increase this year,” he said. “We just need it because of operating expenses and how everything costs more now. We try to hold it in, but we’ll probably increase some areas minimally this year.”

     Fields said officials aim to do that with as little impact on property taxes, the county’s only way to raise money locally.

     The last time the county raised taxes was in 2008-2009, when Fields said a minimal property tax increase occurred. But since the recession, only a .7 percent increase has occurred.

     “Our tax collections actually dropped $165,000 from 2010-2011 after a bond paid off,” he said. “Last year it increased $47,000 from 2011-2012, which was a .7 percent. I think that tied back into some bonds. Raising taxes and new taxes will depend on what tax rolls shows. You never know.”

     Fields said he understood the impact raising taxes had on people, and he never wants to increase taxes any more than necessary.

     “We’ve always tried to not put more on the taxpayers,” he said. “They’re struggling like everyone else is with the cost of everything going up. And we feel that too with just paying bills. Everything is just going up, up and up.”

     The money the county gets from the state holds pretty steady with petroleum and timber, said Fields.

     “We’re not getting any new money from the state,” he said. “This year they actually cut us and if they don’t do something about our State Aid we’ll lose a good bit from the Local System Bridge Project program if that happens.”

     Fields said, if possible, the county could always use more funding for roads and bridges.

     “The board always wants more money for the roads and bridges,” he said.

     But Fields said other than that, he doesn’t know of any project offhand that he’d like to start on.

     “As far as at the courthouse proper, I can’t think of anything major that we would like to do,” he said. “I’m not going to try to burden the taxpayers to get more money, we’d need an outside source.”

     In other Lincoln County/Brookhaven Government Complex news, Fields said it was still too early to make an assessment of how much the county is saving from energy efficiency improvements that were performed earlier this year.

     The work was paid for through an energy efficiency grant the county received.

     “We’re still waiting to get more time behind us of full usage to be able to compare to last year,” said Fields. “In the next month or so, we should have enough time to compare to last year. We’ve still been doing a few little tweaks. But I do expect to see some savings on our utility bills from that.”